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The Internet Networking Wireless Networking

Open Spectrum Does Not Mean Free Internet 60

Posted by timothy
from the floodgates-in-the-desert dept.
CowboyRobot writes "FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski recently proposed making RF spectrum publicly available, and many in the media (including the Washington Post) have been mistakenly conflating open access to WiFi signal with free Internet access; anyone can put up a wireless access point but that doesn't give them access to the Internet. The proposal will probably mean more attempts at providing free Internet access to specific neighborhoods or municipalities, but as Larry Seltzer at NetworkComputing points out, these programs also usually forget that access to signal is not the same as access to the Internet. After getting the funding to wire a city, these isn't money left to pay for the actual bandwidth usage."
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Open Spectrum Does Not Mean Free Internet

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  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday February 11, 2013 @08:18AM (#42857893) Journal

    I suppose we nerds need to step up and take some of the blame:

    We've been so industrious about our networking duties that when the noobs see an ethernet jack or an SSID they just go and assume that it will lead them to the bounteous lolcats and porn of the internet...

    All jokes(but not all jokers, alas) aside, WTF is wrong with these 'journalists'? Reporting 'FCC proposes additional wifi spectrum' as 'FCC proposes free internets for the masses!' is about as conceptually confused as reporting 'Staples offers 2-for-the-price-of-1 sale on copier paper' as 'Staples, Amazon, New York Times take sides over plan to slash print media prices by half!'.

    Seriously, I'm not expecting these guys to not fuck up something actually tricky, just to make the basic conceptual distinction between the price and availability of a transmission channel and the price and availability of what is transmitted over the channel...

  • Used to live in a city with "free wifi". It was horrendously slow because everybody used it and most still paid a normal provider.

    • Used to live in a city with "free wifi". It was horrendously slow because everybody used it and most still paid a normal provider.

      Given that use of the relevant ISM bands is minimally restricted, and not charged for or sold exclusively, in most of the US(sorry, suckers [nrao.edu]), every city has 'free wifi' in the sense that the FCC is actually proposing to expand... It's just that a few of them also decided to put up APs and then connect them to something.

    • Used to live in a city with "free wifi". It was horrendously slow because everybody used it and most still paid a normal provider.

      If you make a public resource, you have what economists call a "free rider" problem: most people aren't obligated to pay in to it, so they simply take advantage of it without paying in.

      This causes the quality of service to decline. It is related to the "Tragedy of the Commons" [garretthardinsociety.org] where overconsumption of a public resource results in its depletion.

      A better option to "free" internet m

      • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday February 11, 2013 @08:54AM (#42858173) Journal

        With wifi systems, there are really two different problems, because of the two major choke-points:

        1. The speeds that available technology let you wring out of the slices of RF spectrum you are allowed.

        2. The speed of whatever internet connection(s) you've purchased to connect the thing to.

        Problem 1 is the really fundamentally nasty one. Physics gives you some hard limits, silicon vendors give you some rather tighter soft limits(but at least they raise them every few years) and whiny TV broadcasters and cellular telcos keep you from expanding your slices of spectrum.

        Problem 2, unless you are really in the sticks, is much more amenable to pricing-based solutions: it isn't horribly difficult to throttle bandwidth per-device, or do captive-portal authentication, so you can make fairly granular decisions about how much of your cake you want to have, and how much you want to eat. Have you determined that some amount of 'free' internet access is good for local business/a human right/a public convenience that local taxpayers want, just like having the grass mowed at the local park/whatever? Ok, provide unauthenticated access to that amount of bandwidth per device. Do you find that some users of your free service would prefer to use it much more heavily(to the exclusion of a home ISP, say, rather than just at the coffee shop or in the park)? Sounds like you need an authenticated non-free tier that charges more in order to buy more bandwidth to provide to paying customers.

        If you are over-subscribed at the RF level, you are pretty much doomed, at least until better silicon or more spectrum become available; but over-subscription at the ISP pipe level is much more fundamentally solvable.

      • by vlm (69642)

        Its fun to mashup this interpretation vs public parks and public libraries. This brings up the next issue that where I live the parks and library are really nice places to visit, but areas run by some other subcultures turn into dumps you'd never dare to visit. I could imagine areas where the wifi actually works vs areas mostly populated with MITM attack systems.

        One interesting contrast is a commons has no theoretical demand limit... If I make $200 annual profit off each cow, there's no reason to limit my

        • by dkf (304284)

          However with current technology its not possible for a person to use more than a couple dozen megs for a uncompressed 3D hdtv stream. On average, most will use dramatically less.

          Yes, but people keep coming up with more demanding applications. I remember when very few people could use as much as a 56k modem, but hardware got better and new applications came along. That's been the way for a long time, ever since people started hooking computers up to telecommunications equipment...

          • by vlm (69642)

            Disagree. Back when I used my first 300 baud modem around 1981ish I had no problem thinking about "looking at still pictures" or "hearing sound" or, although it seemed kinda far out, sound and live video. Easily imagined, this stuff was all over sci-fi books and movies however unrealistic/magical it appeared at the time. Now its here.

            But what can be imagined that anyone wants that takes bandwidth beyond high res 3-d surround sound video? Touchy-feely stuff is actually pretty low bandwidth. Smell and ta

            • by crdotson (224356)

              True -- but if you add up, say, the bandwidth needed for a wall-sized display at 600ppi and 80fps I think you'll be surprised at how much bandwidth is required. We have a ways to go.

    • by alen (225700)

      free wifi is good for torrenting, porn and anything else to save your bandwidth and use up the free stuff

  • by Murdoch5 (1563847) on Monday February 11, 2013 @08:25AM (#42857947)
    It's sad that no one seems to know the difference. Wifi operates on a subset of frequencies within the RF spectrum, knowing that, how can anyone confuse Open RF with Free Internet? That would be like saying "Were opening part of the energy spectrum" and then telling people "That means we now get free TV", it's not true.
    • I suspect that they don't know that and are, instead, approaching the problem through some sort of horrible caricature of naive Bayesian induction:

      "The whole system is a magical black box that I don't understand. However, I have connected to 'the wifi' at home, work, starbucks, and the airport, on numerous occasions and in numerous locations. Almost every time I connect to 'the wifi', I obtain internet access. Therefore, 'the wifi' must provide internet access, and an FCC proposal to 'expand the wifi' must

      • by Murdoch5 (1563847)
        Your right and this is what we need to stop! If someone willfully insulted the writings and work of Shakespeare you would have 50 thousand english and play nuts ready to kill the offender, however when someone makes a completely wrong statement about computer / electronics, most of us sit back and do nothing.

        Silly comparison maybe, but it's more for the point that other groups who defend knowledge take it seriously and yet most "knowledgeable" electronic geeks smile, nod and just move on without doing
        • by Sulphur (1548251)

          Your right and this is what we need to stop! If someone willfully insulted the writings and work of Shakespeare you would have 50 thousand english and play nuts ready to kill the offender, however when someone makes a completely wrong statement about computer / electronics, most of us sit back and do nothing.

          Silly comparison maybe, but it's more for the point that other groups who defend knowledge take it seriously and yet most "knowledgeable" electronic geeks smile, nod and just move on without doing anything at all.

          They consider it much ado about nothing?

    • by vlm (69642)

      then telling people "That means we now get free TV", it's not true.

      Thats the funny part, is the average drone thinks TV comes out of a $100/month satellite dish or coaxial cable, but there's a large fraction of the population that thinks they're smarter than the average bear because they know they can connect an antenna and actually get free over the air HDTV from the major (and many minor) networks. Then you add the crowd that thinks they're 'leet because they read a gawker article online about somebody making a pringles can wifi antenna... Combine the two and you get pr

  • If the goal is to connect together people then access to "the Internet" is not necessary. Communities could roll their own network, their own servers and address space. All you need is a DNS server to bind it all together (or a P2P system). There would be many benefits to this. However it would not be the same as accessing the Internet.

    OTOH a few communities could peer up, then a few more, etc etc. until everyone was connected. The problem would be interconnects. It would be slow without dedicated fibre an

  • So why couldn't an ISP set up a tower with a GigE connection and tell customers they have to set up a directional antenna pointed to my tower, but my prices are a fraction of what a wired or totally managed (cellular provider) ISP would have to charge. After all, we keep hearing that the reason we don't have a massive buildout of fiber to the home is because the last mile is extremely expensive. If the customer is paying for the equipment to connect, along with open white space spectrum (or whatever is bein

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jimbouse (2425428)
      You are referring to a (w)ISP.

      I own one and it is exactly how you postulate. I started with one tower 12 miles from the nearest Fiber POP. Now I have 7 towers covering 34 square miles in less than 1 year.

      I provide a good service for a reasonable price. No caps, no filters, just the "speed limit" that your tier of service is set to.
    • by vlm (69642)

      You seem to have a very optimistic view of tower cost / rental.

      For a good laugh talk to the ham radio guys about what a decent 150 foot tower would cost in total, not just the tower but the installation, base, guying, etc.

      Now don't get fooled by people who don't know what they're doin... all that "a section of Rohn45G is $300 delivered, so 15 of em is only $4500 ... well you're forgetting that 45G is "ham grade" and can only self support to 40 feet or so... You want something 150 foot rated (and here we ne

      • by grumling (94709)

        Tower costs are still FAR cheaper than stringing fiber to every customer. Try $7-12 PER FOOT for underground construction. $7 is nice and easy, just trenching in the right of way, while the $12 range is for road bores and other "tricky" jobs. That's just for getting the fiber in the ground, not for the glass or lighting it up. Hope you pass a lot of customers along the way. If not, that guy at the end is going to take a long time to pay back.

        And you have to pay pole rental if you want to run aerial, along w

  • by Charliemopps (1157495) on Monday February 11, 2013 @09:13AM (#42858357)

    We want free, unfettered, networking ability. The internets dieing a slow death of a thousand DMCA request paper cuts. Give me a free alternative any day. If my local municipality setup their own local network, I'd hook up. We've all got this idea that "The Internet" is the only network to connect to, but I think an alternative is the only solution to the corporate nonsense that's been going on over the past 10 years. Maybe this time we can build it smarter, knowing ahead of time what these jerks are going to try and do.

    • by BitterOak (537666)

      We want free, unfettered, networking ability. The internets dieing a slow death of a thousand DMCA request paper cuts. Give me a free alternative any day.

      What makes you think the DMCA wouldn't apply to your alternate "internet" as well? If you read the language of the DMCA, or other copyright laws which pertain to sharing of files on a network, you won't see the term "Internet" anywhere. The laws are all crafted generically, referring to networks and the like, but no specific reference to THE Internet.

  • by fadethepolice (689344) on Monday February 11, 2013 @10:01AM (#42858819) Journal
    IF local businesses used it to advertise and sell directly to consurmers through it. This would basically allow the traditional (city net) we used to see in matrix style hacking videos / books in the eighties and early nineties. If there is a critical mass of businesses offering services over a local wireless mesh network then the 'internet' will want to access that market. Make a peering deal and you could enable internet access to / between these citywide wireless nodes. The main issue at this point is making sure everyone has access to personal ipv6 addresses. It is possible, but not likely, as the general public has no knowledge of the benefits of having a free access local mesh network.
  • The internet is a tool for moving information around. Keeping the internet functional means that all information riding around on it has to be treated the same way; that is the nature of a packet-switched protocol. The protocol has to be pretty much blind to the constraints imposed on the information. The net neutrality problem is that information with a value (for what ever definition of value that you want to use) riding on the internet means content providers have to armor their information to keep th
  • Open Spectrum is required for the dream of unencumbered global networking. The Internet (in the US) doesn't work this way & is primarily a monopoly or oligopoly with all players wanting great controls, user access limits, etc. Mesh networking would overstep the costs & regulations required in laying fiber that currently ensure this monopoly. Spectrum that can travel for miles reduces latency. And everyone would want involvement: If you want mesh network access, you'd need to buy a repeater-type devi

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